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National Volunteer Week CAMH’s pet therapy volunteers help transform lives

Pets have long proven to have restorative and calming effects on their owners and those around them. At CAMH, dogs do much the same for our clients.

Theresa and Juno

Theresa Conforti, CAMH Volunteer Resource Coordinator, Inpatient Program, shares the remarkable story about how her dog Juno inspired a client to speak up:

About eight years ago my black lab Juno (our pet therapy dog) was visiting the Law and Mental Health unit for her usual walk with clients. On this particular day when Juno walked on the unit, she was immediately approached by a client who knelt down and started petting her. The client was very happy to see Juno and pulled her ear to say something private. It came to light later that the client rarely spoke.

“Pet assisted-activities have been taking place for many years in hospitals and retirement homes. Medical studies have shown that stroking and patting a dog has a calming effect that can lower blood pressure and ease tension,” says Theresa. “Visits allow spontaneous interaction between the pet and client, with no specific treatment goals beyond the unconditional acceptance the pet offers.”

CAMH’S Pet therapy volunteers commit themselves to regular weekly visits, to the same program for a minimum commitment of one year. This program is designed for clients who have dogs but cannot be with them while they receive treatment and for those clients who will never be able to own their own dog. There are 16 dogs who are part of the program. “You can’t miss them, they are identified with purple bandanas and wagging tails!” says Theresa.

Theresa is grateful to be partnered with Trevor De Cristofaro from Olympus Dog Training Academy and Bonnie Kukula of Delta Society who screen, test and evaluate dogs before they can be part of CAMH’s Pet Therapy program. Once they pass, it’s time for their handlers to be interviewed, trained and placed.

Volunteers provide invaluable contributions to CAMH, including through clinical care placements like the pet therapy program, through the research volunteer program, or with colleagues through our corporate volunteer program. If you are looking for an opportunity to help transform lives, you can find our more information about volunteering with CAMH here.

Paws up to all of our volunteers!​

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